A jury heard testimony Thursday in the trial of a San Luis Obispo woman accused of driving intoxicated when she crashed head-on into another vehicle, killing its driver, in rural Santa Margarita in 2016.
The San Luis Obispo County District Attorney's Office alleges that a blood test shows that Jessica Allred, 24, had a blood-alcohol level nearly double the legal limit to drive at the time of the April 30, 2016, crash that killed Santa Margarita resident Denise Fox.
But the blood sample taken from Allred following the crash may have been tainted by a hospital nurse, and other crucial protocols for preserving the evidence may not have been followed, according to testimony.
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Allred is accused of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and driving under the influence, charges that carry sentencing enhancements for causing death. She has pleaded not guilty.
If convicted of all charges and enhancements, Allred faces a maximum of 10 years in state prison. She's posted bail and remains out of custody.
Allred was returning to San Luis Obispo on Highway 58 from the Pozo Stampede event at the Pozo Saloon on April 30, 2016, when she allegedly drove her 1999 Saturn across the solid double yellow line and collided with a 1996 Toyota driven by Fox, according to the CHP. She was arrested in the emergency room of Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center after suffering two fractured ankles and a compound fracture in her leg.
Testimony in the trial began Wednesday afternoon. On Thursday, jurors heard from CHP Officer Barry Williams, who interviewed Allred at Sierra Vista the evening of the crash.
Under examination from Deputy District Attorney Chase Martin, Williams testified that Allred told him she had three beers over a three-hour period before driving. Williams recalled that Allred had red eyes, slurred speech and exhibited signs of nystagmus when he talked to her. Nystagmus is the involuntary movement of the eyes and can be caused by intoxication.
A blood test taken by a nurse while Williams watched later showed a blood alcohol content of 0.17, well over the legal limit of 0.08.
But under cross-examination by Patrick Fisher, Allred's defense attorney, Williams called into question the blood sample.
According to a brief filed by Fisher prior to the trial, Sierra Vista registered nurse Shelly Burns did not follow Title 17 protocol for drawing blood in a possible DUI case. According to the filing, Burns, who was not a certified phlebotomist and who testified Wednesday that she had never before taken a blood draw for a DUI test, applied an alcohol-based solvent to Allred's arm prior to drawing her blood with a syringe.
That solvent caused a falsely elevated alcohol level in her blood sample, Fisher's brief states.
On Thursday, Williams contradicted Burns' account of the blood draw, stating he saw her rub iodine on Allred's arm prior to the blood draw, not alcohol solvent. Burn also stated Wednesday she didn't remember drawing Allred's blood, despite her initials being written on a label stuck to the vial.
Williams also testified that he was not in physical possession of the blood sample the entire time from when it was drawn to when he dropped it off as evidence at the Paso Robles Police Station.
Asked by Fisher if there was ever a time he lost track of the vial of blood while in the hospital, Williams replied: "I knew it was in the room."
Williams also conceded under cross-examination that Allred's eyes could have been red from crying, and that certain medications — including pain medication — could cause nystagmus. It was not stated in court whether Allred was on pain medication during the test.
Also Thursday, Fisher called a defense witness out of turn due to scheduling issues. James Ralston, a former co-worker of Allred's at a local bar and grill who saw her at the Pozo Stampede, testified that he bumped into her as she was leaving the event to report to work.
Ralston said he walked and talked with Allred for approximately two minutes before she drove off, and said he saw no signs of impairment.
"I was very aware she was going to drive her car and I did not (have any concerns)," Ralston testified. "She was concerned about getting to work on time."
Testimony is expected to continue Friday. It is unclear whether Allred plans to take the stand in her defense.
Fox's family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Allred. A case management conference in that case is scheduled for late July pending completion of the criminal case.